Wednesday, 11 April 2018


In the same week that a friend's mother was destashing and I scored two lengths of shirting (one poly-cotton and one wool cotton) I saw a progression of photographs on Instagram from a sewist, describing the making of a man's shirt.  
Poly-cotton (l) and Wool/cotton (r)
I could do that, couldn't I? How hard would it be? JTH agreed,  nothing to loose and he would gain a couple of shirts if I was successful!

The instagrammer (Sew-it WithDi)  recommended Vogue V8759

It's quite an old patten, practically vintage

When I read other people's comments on their sewing projects (and if you are interested in joining a group and benefitting from the hive mind I can thoroughly recommend The Self Sewn Wardrobe by Mallory Donohue a great facebook group*) I see that many people begin with a muslin. I have to confess  that in all my years of sewing, and I began aged about 8 sewing doll's clothes on my mother's ancient treadle machine, I have only made a muslin once, for my wedding dress in 1977. I don't even tell myself that I will treat my first attempt at a pattern as my 'wearable muslin', I rarely make up a pattern more than once (with one exception, maybe I'll blog about that one some time) I just plunge in - with some variable results, I have to admit.

So, why break the habit? - no muslin this time, either. No matter that I have never made a shirt before. But honestly it is the tiny techniques that I expected to find tricky - ways of sewing that are peculiar to men's shirts and that transform a shirt from home-made to hand-made. 

But I did measure the pattern pieces carefully against a ready to wear (RTW) shirt that I knew fitted JTH to his satisfaction.

I know I have to cut twice but it is easier to plan the lay-out

And here's another confession - I am not a member of 'Team Trace' either,  once I have decided on a size I cut the pattern out. Generally this is no problem as I am only going to make up the pattern once, am I not?

JTH does not have a lot of patience for trying on, so after checking length and chest measurements against the RTW shirt (collar size did not matter, the shirts will not be worn with ties) I just forged ahead. I did not show him the shirt until it was finished and pressed either. You see I have this idea that JTH has a fear of hand made stuff (or I think he does) that it will look daggy and he will have to wear it just so as not to offend me. I don't think he has ever said this, but I always feel that trying on a half made thing will increase this fear. 

I did, however,  subject him to a running commentary each time I emerged from my studio for meals or sleep.  Just because I loved every bit of the construction.  The pattern instructions, that I followed to the letter, instead of my usual practice of just a quick scan of the pictures, were brilliant.

This is the wool-cotton fabric, you can see how springy it is but it pressed out well

When placing the collar band I found lots of pins placed at right angles to the seam the best way to keep the layers in place. 

I wonder how others like to place their pins? Do you pin parallel to the seam or at right angles? And does anyone dare just sew over the right angled pins? I do at times but have had so many broken needles that I tend to only do this on easy long seams with only two fabric layers, on a seam like this I always remove them as I go. This is why I prefer these glass head pins from Merchant & Mills (never the cheaper plastic headed ones that I have learned to my cost melt under my iron)

button holes next and a tiny pocket detail

Almost finished and ready for machine made button-holes. I love  the wonderful button-hole foot that came with my first electronic sewing machine about 25 years ago. Do you know the one? It has a little jig what you insert your chosen button into; after which all you have to do is set the dial to your chosen button hole-shape, place the first stitch, on the carefully measured and marked dot (the only skill required) and hit the gas.

thread to match the buttons, not the shirts

All machining done I sit down with a pile of buttons, needle, thread, thimble (always a thimble), and a cat (nearly always a cat) to sew on the buttons and snip or tie in all cotton ends.

after pressing

The shirts were all made from stash - not a penny spent except on the pattern. I always have cream and white sewing thread (an all purposed poly cotton thread by Gutermann is the one I prefer, I buy it in the largest reel I can get) and have a very large hoard of buttons.

larger pockets to accommodate a modern smart-phone

I have already said that I found the pattern perfect for a novice shirtmaker like me - or even an expert, except an expert may not need to have recourse to the pattern instructions as often as I did. But if I make more shirts and as I enjoyed the process I may break my usual habit and do so, I will modify the back a little. The pattern is quite old, from a time when men's shirts were very fitted. it has a traditional back yoke but the lower back is in three pieces, with run-and-fell seams, and fits closely to the body.  JTH is slim (annoyingly so, probably lighter than me despite being a couple of inches taller) and the shirts fitted well but another time I will make some modifications.

I will cut the back in one piece allowing for a box pleat and little loop at the centre back. I might also mess around with the collar shape but as JTH only wears a tie for weddings and funerals (and then never with a checked shirt!) he is not particular about collars.  But I am wondering whether I can achieve a small enough button hole on my machine to make button down collars.

maybe I'll play with the collar next time

One change I did make and that was to make a deeper pocket to accommodate a modern smart phone - JTH has had many phone disasters over time - the inevitable phone down the loo scenario, but the funniest was when it fell into a large bucket of wallpaper paste.

I would love to hear in the comments of anyone else's experience with shirt making. And if anyone is thinking of taking the plunge do have a look at Mallory's face book group. Each month she takes a new project with lovely VOLGs about the techniques involved and this month she is talking about button downs!




amchart said...

A collared shirt was my very first attempt at sewing a garment in 5th grade. Needless to say, I did not finish it! But at 16 I got a job at a fabric store and sewed my way through high school and college. Right now I am knee deep in my daughter's prom dress that needs to be done by Saturday. 9 kids and a disastrously messy house don't allow for much sewing. I loved your post. I miss my non-stop sewing days!

kristieinbc said...

Those shirts are brilliant! Well done! I've sewn a couple of Archer shirts for myself. Thankfully there is a sew-along, or I never would have been able to do it. If you want some more interesting patterns for men have a look at Thread Theory. She is a men's pattern designer based in British Columbia, Canada, and she has some really nice things.

Jee said...

These look really good. I haven't made husband a shirt since we went through a very impoverished period in the early 1980's, and bought a job lot of cheap shirting fabric. There have recently been murmerings about perhaps making another as he saw some fabric he took a fancy to when we went into a shop to buy a pattern. Have to brush up my shirt skills a bit. I don't trace, and plunge straight in to patterns unless it's for small grandaughter where I might want to make the next size up.

Catherine said...

Jee, Kristie, Amchart - I hope you all call back here to check if I have read your comments as I am not able to reply directly. Thank you so much for your comments and encouragement. Amchart - I remember so well snatching a half hour here and there (or sewing into the early hours) when my four children were small, you will get the time back before you know it, meanwhile enjoy making those tiny clothes. Jee - I remember the 'hard up 80s' too but did not make shirts, although I did make one pair of trousers for JTH and he actually wore them! Kristie, thanks for the pattern recommendation, I'm off to check them out



Jee said...

Just having a blog catch up I realised I hadn't read your previous post. Love the anorak. It reminded me that when I was about 8yrs old my father took me to his tailor who made me a beautiful coat - navy wool melton with a rainbow collar. When we went to collect it I was delighted to see one of the men actually sitting crosslegged on the big cutting table handsewing.

Charlotte Parfitt said...

Wow the shirts look great! Have you ever made a shirt for yourself?

Catherine said...

Hi Charlotte - no, I have never made myself a shirt - I really must one day. Jee, that image of a tailor sitting crossed legged always puts me in mind of the story of The Tailor of Gloucester!

Mary Lou said...

I have sewn a few, many moons ago. I made one for my husband and put the cuffs on so the vents were on the top instead of the bottom. After all the french seaming and top stitching I told him he just had to wear them rolled up. A casual shirt, at least! Those look good.